|Forest Sangha Newsletter||October 1988|
Family Summer Camp
The light and blessings of the triple gem gave rise to a kaleidoscope event this year at Amaravati. Although more ordinarily known as the Family Summer Camp, the numbers from last year had almost doubled, so this year's camp blossomed into something that had a touch of the extraordinary. During the last week of July, different shaped tents and a colourful array of people (Most1y small sized!) appeared at Amaravati - as if out of the void. As the camp quickly gained momentum, it had the potential for experiencing both the peace of Dhamma and the turbulent nature of the six realms (states of mind that arise according to the results of thought, speech and action that are based in greed, hatred and delusion). The six realms became the main theme of the Dhamma talks and workshops, and it was also the subject for this year's children's play. Besides this, there were a varied number of activities in which the monastic and lay community shared their knowledge and skills with parents and children. One of the on-going projects initiated at the camp was the building of a stupa from stones which people had brought from all over, including some from Buddhist holy sites in India. The stupa is something that anyone can contribute to at any time: so if you are visiting Amaravati, please bring some stones from your home.
A fertile field of paramita is cultivated, providing the right soil in which such wonderful events as the Family Camp can grow and bloom.
Around each camp so far there has been an aura of vibrancy and experimentation, this year was no exception with such an increase in numbers, it was very much an experiment. In previous years people who have come have known each other-, this year many new faces came. So as the camp moved into a slightly new dimension, those involved in its organisation found it helpful to meet several times throughout the week to reflect on this new direction and the growth of interest. There was a general agreement about certain guidelines and principles that would be helpful in future camps. These would ensure smooth running of practicalities; create more opportunities for children to have closer contact with the Sangha; enable more formal Dhamma teaching to take place; Provide more creative and physical activities for the younger boys; facilitate a better communication system. There were many other positive suggestions put forward that could be incorporated.
The organisation of such a camp next year will need a co-operative effort of families with members of the Sangha. Meetings will be held in the Spring for those interested in helping. The dates for next year's camp are 20th-31st August. This longer stretch of time lends itself to spreading out the numbers of those attending, and also provides an opportunity for those who feel they would benefit from a longer stay.
So as the practice in Sangha life quietly continues throughout the year, a fertile field of paramita is cultivated, providing the right soil in which such wonderful events as the Family Camp can grow and bloom.
Many thanks to Tahn Ajahn, the monks and nuns and all whose help made this year's camp possible.
"You went where?"
"To a monastery."
"On your own?"
"No, with about 60 other adults and 60 children."
"What on earth did you do with 80 children in a monastery?"
Well first of all one tries to accommodate and feed them all. This year the retreat centre was full of tents. A marquee had been erected into which the whole community poured three times a day in search of the giant pots of food prepared in the kitchen by half a dozen volunteers. Some sat at tables and many sat on a patchwork of carpets which had appeared like magic to cover the floor.
For many families it was a new adventure. The children participated in a number of workshops such as drama, nature, puppet making, Buddhist teachings, a Brahma Kumari Global co-operation workshop, needlework, yoga, calligraphy, cookery, kite making and printing. As people do, they responded in a variety of ways. Some wanted to sample every kind of activity, some chose a few on which to concentrate, and some wanted to do none. Some groups were large and some were small; some were quiet and some were noisy-, some worked for hours and some for a few minutes. A vitality bubbled throughout the place from the morning puja at seven-thirty to the dying embers of the camp fire at midnight.
Nor were the parents idle! Regular requests for practical help with washing up, carrying tea urns, cleaning toilets and looking after the babies creche competed with dhamma talks on the six realms and the four noble truths, conversation times with Tuhn Ajahn, yoga, massage, and meditation.
The pace changed on Friday, Asalha puja day, when the older children and some parents walked with six members of the Sangha the ten miles to Ivinghoe Beacon. A relative tranquility settled over the campsite while they followed footpaths through bean fields, woodland, villages and pasture. The tiny tots were brought with their parents by car to meet us at our destination with ice-creams and hot tea. Kites were flown and muddy feet rested for the last few minutes of clear blue sky before a cloudburst sent us scurrying home.
The week finished with the consecration of a new stone stupa the building of which was initiated during the camp; a presentation of the children's play, "The six realms"; a short melodic puja devised for the children; and the perennially propitious blessing.
"I thought a monastery was a quiet, solemn place."
"And so it is ... sometimes!"
Comments from the children:
I arrive at Amaravati, the timetable is packed. I spend all day rushing from one activity to the next, not wanting to miss any of them. So many workshops, so many things to do, the whole day flashes by at the speed of light. A late night from the campfire, and early rise for morning puja. I began to feel like an excited machine robot, collecting skill, knowledge and information as I ran at full speed.
The week comes to a sudden end, everything slows down. We say goodbye. We go home. We fall asleep. We rest. I read a book. I watch a film. I walk like a zombie. My mind is blank. I've forgotten the monastery after the first day. I can't think of anything, just push thoughts aside and fall asleep. I slowly try to get back into life routine. The clock gradually ticks away the minutes. I watch the grass grow.
The week begins to happen all over again in my mind. People's sayings haunt my memory. The play of "The Six Realms" acts itself again.
I watch it all come and go, and I take my Buddha rupa from the cupboard, dust it, and put it in its place in my room.
I think the best workshop was calligraphy. It was great fun and I learnt it quite quickly. Somebody spilt some ink on a monk and he didn't lose his temper.
Poems from "The Six Realms of Existence":
Responses by adults to the camp:
Improvements suggested for next year: